D’var Torah: Learn to do good from past leaders

Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner

“G-d said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”
– Genesis 1:3

The creation of light figures prominently in our tradition. Just think of these examples:
The burning bush, the directive found in Exodus to create the seven-branched menorah, the daily recitation of Yotzer Or, the morning blessing reminding us that G-d renews creation daily, the presence of the nir tamid – the eternal light – in every synagogue, and the mitzvah to light the chanukiah during the Festival of Lights.
All these examples speak to the significance of light in our faith.
Since light is so prominent in Judaism, each of us, in our own way, has the obligation to shed light.
We do this through acts of tikkun olam, repairing the world. Each of us can and must bring more light into the world. Tikkun olam can be accomplished through our words and our deeds, making a positive difference in our lives.
Our tradition provides myriad commandments, teachings and sayings that instruct and inspire us to make the world a better place. And for this, we should be grateful.
After the darkness of the Tree of Life shootings in Pittsburgh and at the Kroger in Jeffersontown, we need to remind ourselves that light can banish darkness, that goodness can prevail over evil.
We can find this reassurance in words spoken by people who have made a difference throughout history – some Jewish, some not – and in the holy books of our faith. If we hold on to their words, write them upon our souls and inscribe them in our minds, we will be part of the solution; we will banish the darkness that is in our midst.
Here are some of those words:
Elie Wiesel: “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”
Mother Theresa: “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
Publilus Syrus: “Where there is unity there is always victory.”
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”
Albert Einstein: “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
Mahatma Gandhi: “When you make peace with yourself, you make peace with the world.”
Rabbi Joachim Prinz: “America must not become a nation of onlookers. America must not remain silent.”
The book of Deuteronomy: “Justice, justice, you shall pursue.”
As the secular New Year approaches, let us remember the words spoken by those who sought to bring more light into the world, combating the evil, hate and discrimination that rears its ugly head.
Let us commit ourselves anew to consciously speaking words and taking actions that will not only bring more light into our world but will also affirm the words found in Genesis 1:4: “G-d saw that the light was good, and G-d separated the light from the darkness.”
In 2019, may the spark of the Divine that is within each of us shine brightly, as we strive to bring more light, and less darkness, into the lives of all of G-d’s children.

(Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner is the spiritual leader of Temple Shalom.)

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